I started writing this on my way back from Kuala Lumpur on 25 November but it has taken me a few days to begin to collect my thoughts.

To attempt to summarize ‘School of Tomorrow: Empowering Lifelong Learners’ (20-21 November 2012, Kuala Lumpur) in a few blog posts would be an injustice – perhaps as unfitting as my ‘vote of thanks’ at the closing of the conference in which I cleverly forgot to thank the most important constituents in the room – The Student Superstars – but I’ll talk about that later!  For now, I’ll just say that this oversight was caused partly by my heightened consciousness to ‘wrap up’ before the 37 long minutes I took in Lahore (2010) but equally due to frazzled nerves: just before I was due to speak, I noticed a giant stain (which was probably visible from the moon) on my suit jacket, causing me to rush upstairs to my hotel room and change into a blazer – which, ten minutes later, ended up missing its most visible button – thus prompting a second wardrobe change!

So it was that I stood before the august gathering of 500 educators at 5 pm on 21 November, literally a ‘changed man’, trying frenetically to bring together the multiple and multilayered threads of thought generated by the 35 amazingly talented speakers and panelists at our latest SOT conference.

Through this blog, I shall aim to present a few snapshots of the conference in the form of a series of vignettes (a fancy word I like to use that basically means ‘pointless little stories without plots.’).  Hopefully, this should prove to be a smarter (and less taxing) strategy than attempting an ambitious summary.

KL: 19 November

Vignette 1: The most important meal of the day?

Anyone who knows me will readily agree that I am anything but a morning person.  It was thus a shock to my system to find myself in the deserted studios of TV7 in Shah Alam (on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur) at 6.52 am on 19 November, the day before the conference, for a breakfast show (in which ‘breakfast’ proved to be myth).  I was joined on this ‘breaking dawn’ expedition by Dr. Kathryn Riley of the University of London’s Institute of Education (one of our speakers) and her daring husband Roberto, along with our handlers Tabraiz Bokhari of Beaconhouse and ‘Pandora’ of Group M (our media relations agency in Malaysia) – the two eager beavers responsible for our red eyes and foul moods.  At about 7.30 am, the silence of the studios was finally broken by a shattered-looking man (one of the show hosts, we later learnt) who looked alarmed to see us there so early.  I glared again at Pandora, who slid a bit lower into her seat.

Dr. Riley and I were finally called onto the set at 8.20 am by the now-perky hosts (make-up does wonders) while they aired, as the intro to our interview, a pre-edited video segment in which random young people on the streets of Kuala Lumpur had been “polled” on whether they preferred “traditional vs. modern methods of teaching”.  Wonderful, I thought – this is their sum total understanding of the school of tomorrow.  Sure enough, one ‘pollee’ after another waxed eloquent on the wonders of modern technology and its apparently magical powers in the classroom.  It was a good thing I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, otherwise I might have started to feel a little unwell.  When the painfully repetitive montage was finally over and I was invited to comment, I tried to explain that the school of tomorrow and ‘empowering lifelong learners’ extended beyond Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia. I spoke of experiential learning and project-based learning, of the excessive focus on exams and the consequent shift from learning to teaching.  Later, Dr Riley explained how a child born today in Kuala Lumpur would not enter the workforce for another 22 years and, therefore, we needed to be very thoughtful about preparing the said child for a future that we knew very little about, hence underscoring the importance of acquiring the skills necessary for lifelong learning.  Our very amiable hosts seemed temporarily convinced but their interventions soon returned to scholarly thoughts like ‘But don’t you think that traditional studying leads to, like, more permanent knowledge?’

This interview, my first on Malaysian television, reminded me that, on the whole, we don’t really know what we want from our schools – whether in Malaysia, the United States, or Pakistan.  We are, on the other hand, quite clear that we want our hospitals to deliver cutting-edge healthcare based on the latest research.  Nobody is likely to conduct a public poll on whether you prefer “traditional vs. modern methods of surgery” (sure, let’s perform that heart bypass using unsterilized tools, an out-of-date doctor, and crude anesthesia) but we get all nostalgic when we think about “traditional education” and start dreaming of teachers with clipped English accents and perfect lesson plans.

More Vignettes?

In my next blog post (which I pray will be soon), I will write about the first day of the SOT Conference – from keynote speaker Richard Gerver’s story of Gary (which left many in the audience sharing moist tissues), to Dr Alma Harris’s matter-of-fact but impactful closing of Day 1, and finally to ‘Curry Spice’, a politically incorrect but riotous entertainer who made some laugh till they wept while others walked out!

  19 Responses to “Tomorrow Never Comes – Part I”

  1. Respected Sir ,
    In today’s fast paced world it is easy to be enthusiastic when you are making changes .All teachers want to make changes.But the drawback is that teachers’ enthusiasm vanishes when their capability is judged by their English Accent.I think It’s time to think about real learning process. Abraham Lincoln once quoted that.“The best way to predict your future is to create it”
    I believe that the time has come working on new ways of learning where there is a chance of possible answer not the right answer,doing not reviewing, fun not discipline and motivation not resignation.

  2. dear kasuri I am the teacher of ur school but nao m in very much in trouble. plz give me ur email Id i want to discuss it with u,

    Thank u

  3. what should one do if a colleague says you can take five minutes of her period to do a quick audio visual aid because of limited resources and then goes to the head in front of the school evaluation team and lies that you have taken those five minutes of her class by force and she wants to leave her job at the school and since she gets along so well with the sm that she too agrees with her and nobody believes you and on top of that she sends students to head to tell lies about you

  4. Dear Sir ,
    You have presented a great food of thought . It is really true that the research is always going on all over the world for providing quality education and school for tomorrow . You have mentioned thought provoking points here for school of tomorrow .It is in fact the nature of great humans that they want to provide the best facilities and system for coming generations and from yours points it appears that you will do a great job for Pakistan as you already are doing because you think for the whole nation and that’s a success for a nation itself . Keep up yours great efforts for Quality education and School for future . I will be waiting for yours next post .

    With Best Regards,
    Dr.Tahir Mehmood

  5. Respected Sir,
    I was really impressed by thought provoking and beautifully worded blog . .
    In country like Pakistan every now and then a school is criticized by a group of cynics who lack ability to express their anger in proper English accent. Modern teaching methodologies requires grooming of our community to realize the importance of education without any gender bias.
    The other part of the story is that large number of teachers employed in schools are still doubtful whether a qualitative teachings is being imparted in class room.
    In my view a constant re vision of syllabus , thinking, planning and training is to be undertaken to face the challenges and to move towards a progressive goal.

  6. Respected sir,
    Thought-provoking and intuitive points
    ‘We don’t really know what we want from our schools’
    We need to prepare our children to thrive in the 21st century and ‘We don’t really know what we want from our schools’. It’s true we are clear in many other thing but not about our schools. Schools need to have a monopoly on ‘academic’ learning for the betterment of the students, and if they do not, the world may simply leave the new generation behind. We need to prepare them with the skills, the abilities, the attributes and the competencies that they need to move in this digital world.
    I agree with Zarene Malik. We need to realize that education has a bigger task than just exams.
    Warm regards,

  7. Dear Sir

    Your vision of TSOT seems over lapping the ideas of Robert Kiyosaki who writes on similar lines:” My father,who was an educator,told me that a teacher’s job ,first and foremost ,is to educate-not fail-the child.But in our current educational system,each teacher’s power is derived from the student’s fear of failure….” Be Rich And Happy pg:238
    He continues to evolve a dynamic educational system which seems engaging ,enchanting and free of all fears! Hope you would like to read on

  8. Kasim,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. Our obsession with ‘traditional’ education is an impediment to progress. My greatest fear is that our obsession with grades and results, has led us to lose more than we ever gain. The greatest loser is the student, who is taught to focus merely on the examination, losing much of what the world has to offer and limiting his/her own growth.
    The current system prevalent in all schools is the O and A level and reminds me of a report I read by Cambridge University on examinations titled, “The humble servant, not the dominating master”. It basically spells out why examinations were introduced and were to serve mainly as the ‘humble servant’ but it has become a monster and can’t be reversed as it has become the ‘dominating master’, limiting learning. They go on to tell you how much less the student is actually experiencing because of examinations.
    I enjoyed the self deprecating humour especially in the beginning of the blog.

  9. Hi Kasim, nice words!

    I was chatting to one of your U.K. tutors about the possibility of offering entry-level creative internet literacy & production courses through our local Newlands College. After checking out the TNS website I was so impressed! I research a lot of international educational initiatives & thought there was a particularly fresh, interesting & cohesive practical vision from an organisation with a very human face. I’d have no hesitation about getting involved should it happen. Well done to everyone involved.
    Look forward to reading more from you.
    Best wishes, Jamie

  10. Dear Mr. Kasim,

    Its always so refreshing to read your blog. Knowing you one does not expect anything but an honest and candid write up with subtle humor that leaves a smile on ones face. You are absolutely right that when you say that we all get nostalgic about ‘traditional education’. This is probably the reason that the progress on bringing all stakeholders on board to a more modern outlook to education has been so slow. But I am sure with the persistent efforts made by BSS, we will inshallah be able to make a break through.
    Looking forward to your next blog. Wishing you all the best in your endeavors.

  11. Dear Sir
    I am part of the system but not a good reader from computer .we were working on duty roster and after the print out clicked your blog and the sentence which touched me the most is,
    ” but we get all nostalgic when we think about “traditional education” and start dreaming of teachers with clipped English accents and perfect lesson plans.”
    I have the same question in my mind, now what to do?

    Hopefully we ll get a proper answer and set up too under your leadership

    Farah Ali

  12. Respected SIr

    well i totally agree with the point that least importance is given to ” What we really want from schools” often its argued that schools should provide a platform for students’ holistic development.It’s alarming to see how teachers still wants to persist to old ways of teaching to a generation which will not enter the workforce for another 22 years .

  13. Dear Kasim saheb,

    As usual it is a pleasure to read your blog (not just for the sense it makes, but also because it is so well -written…. particularly the tongue in cheek humour which is so refreshing).

    On a humane note, thank you for sharing re the stain/ button on the jacket, this does happens to even the most well-organized ones among us but becomes a confidence eroding experience.
    But why didnt you just doff the(offending) jacket and leave it at that?

    Will look forward to the rest of the blog and your views on SOT.

    Best regards,

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